Cyber attack puts eBay's crisis management planning under the microscope

May 23, 2014 by Jonathan Hemus

News that eBay’s servers were hacked emphasises once again the criticality of addressing cyber attack in your crisis management planning and crisis management training.  Anyone overlooking this issue leaves themselves seriously vulnerable to reputational damage.

As an online business, eBay will certainly have considered and taken steps to mitigate the technical risk of cyber attack. However, technical and operational actions – whether preventative or reactive – are rarely enough on their own to avoid reputational damage.  Effective crisis communication planning and implementation is just as important as eBay is discovering.

The business is now being criticised as much for its slow response to the cyber attack as for the incident itself.  It underlines once more the validity of the old crisis management mantra, “tell it all and tell it fast”.

Often though, it’s tough to make the call on a pro-active versus reactive crisis communication strategy. Communicate too much too soon and you risk unnecessarily inflaming a situation; remain tight lipped and you may be accused of a cover up.

To help our clients decide between a reactive or pro-active approach we pose the following four questions:

  1. Is the crisis in the public domain or will it be so imminently?
  2. Does the crisis pose a risk to people, the environment or property?
  3. Could a failure to communicate be seen as uncaring or incompetent?
  4. Could our reputation suffer if we fail to communicate and the crisis becomes public at a later date?

Unless you can answer “no” to all four questions, communicating pro-actively (and quickly) will almost always be the right crisis management strategy.  Not only will it position you as responsible, it will also enable you to set the communication agenda.

eBay will not be the last business to suffer a cyber attack and so your response to an incident of this type should be considered and rehearsed as part of your crisis management training.

And if the worst should happen, ask yourself the four questions above to determine the most appropriate crisis communication response to protect your reputation.

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